Language: English

In Conversation: Canan Marasligil

What I find important is to talk from a personal place: sharing what you know, writing from what you know, expressing yourself with sincerity.

Canan Maraşlıgil’s world has always been a multilingual one. Currently based in Amsterdam, she was born in Turkey, spent her childhood in Belgium, and, as a student, lived for a short time in Canada. Today, as a freelance writer and literary translator, she often travels internationally to deliver workshops and presentations, and works in no less than five languages: English, French, Turkish, Dutch, and Spanish. Always involved in several inspiring projects at once, Canan explores literature through writing and translation, but also photography, video, podcast, and digital media. You can therefore easily imagine our joy when, in addition to all of her brilliant projects, she kindly agreed to schedule an interview with Asymptote’s team member Lou Sarabadzic.

Lou Sarabadzic (LS): You work mostly in French, English, and Turkish, and are regularly involved in projects dealing with multilingualism. What does multilingualism mean for you, and why is it so central to your work?

Canan Maraşlıgil (CM): Multilingualism is my reality. I grew up in a family who came from Turkey to Belgium. We spoke Turkish at home, I went to school in France, then I learned Dutch at school (Belgium is a trilingual country if you count German, but the second language we learned at school was Dutch). I was also hearing a lot of German in our living-room through TV and our cousins living in Zurich and Hamburg—I also have family who migrated to Germany. I started to learn English through friends of my dad who was working in a hotel as a night receptionist, and through popular culture—films and music. However, English only became part of my formal education much later. Now, I start my sentences in one language and end them in another. In my mind, everything is multilingual. Certain feelings come to me in one language, and others in another language. I also work in Dutch a lot, but I don’t really feel in Dutch, nor in Spanish, which is also a language I know, but use much less.

Multilingualism means seeing the world through many different lenses. You can try and understand issues and current affairs through different media in different languages. I think that’s a huge advantage in today’s world.

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Asymptote Podcast: Back into the Archives

Access some of Asymptote's most iconic recordings from the last four years alongside Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle

On this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, we dive once more into the archives to tune into some of the riches that Asymptote has offered readers over the last 30 (now 31!) issues. Pick up where Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle left off in his last episode to listen to recordings from 2014 up to the present issue. Hear a thought provoking essay by Nobel laureate Herta Müller on the space between languages, along with an experimental translation of poetry by Nenten Tsubouchi that fully embraces this space. A fragmented, anonymous love poem in Old English translated by Christopher Patton and an electric reading by poet Steven Alvarez in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl round out the episode. Take a listen, and revel in the riches.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Literary awards, festivals, and commemorative exhibitions reign in this edition of weekly dispatches.

It’s been a busy October in world literature! Join us to find out more about literary happenings from around the world, in Taiwan, China, the United Kingdom, and Albania.

Vivian Chih, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Taiwan:

The “Double Tenth Day” on the 10th of October has been commemorated as the “birthday” of the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan. On this day in 2018, the Li Mei-shu Memorial Gallery in Sanxia District, New Taipei City, held an opening ceremony for a series of exhibitions featuring the works by two important Taiwanese cultural figures,  Li Mei-shu (李梅樹, 1902-1983) and Zhong Lihe (鍾理和, 1915-1960), respectively a painter and a novelist. Both were influential to the development of Taiwan’s art and literary scenes, and having lived through the martial law period, Li and Zhong grounded their paintings and novels in depicting the homelands that had nourished them. Both are considered to be among a group of Taiwanese nativist artists, who composed works to express their concerns and affections about the local people and places in Taiwan. The exhibition is open to the public until the 18th of November, featuring many precious manuscripts by Zhong, paintings by Li, as well as artworks of the other two younger Taiwanese artists.

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Asymptote Podcast: Blackness Revisited

2018 MacArthur Genius John Keene on how translation underlies all artistic pursuit

“All art, all artistic production, entails the base of this word translation, a carrying over…”

In this latest edition of the Asymptote Podcast, we sit down with translator and writer John Keene on the heels of the tremendous news of his MacArthur Genius Award. Author of Annotations and Counternarratives, Keene was longlisted for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award for his translation from the Portuguese of Hilda Hilst’s Letters from a Seducer. But it was his essay Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness which inspired a panel at the most recent AWP Conference as well as our June podcast, so we wanted to get insight straight from the source. Join us as we talk about how translation carries over into a writer’s creative life, how English still holds powerful sway over writers working in other languages, and much much more! Listen to our latest podcast now!

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In Conversation: Emma Ramadan

I had to insert myself literally as a character, and be creative as a translator.

Our latest Asymptote Book Club selection, Brice Matthieussent’s Revenge of the Translator, depicts a terrifying scenario for many authors. According to its translator, the main character is “an author’s worst nightmare”: a translator with their own ulterior motives.

In the latest installment of the Book Club interview series, Emma Ramadan (herself one of numerous characters in the multi-layered English translation of Matthieussent’s novel) speaks to Mallory Truckenmiller. Read on to find out more Ramadan’s unique experience translating Revenge of the Translator — a text that offers us a glimpse into “some of our darkest fantasies as translators.”

Follow up this conversation’s insights into the art of translation with our #30issues30days program, celebrating 7 years of Asymptote.

Mallory Truckenmiller (MT): One defining quality of Revenge of the Translator is its translation within a translation structure, with the translator actually entering the plot of the novel. As the English translator, your role adds yet another layer to the work. How did you approach this position? Did you find ways to insert yourself as a new voice or character within your translation?

Emma Ramadan (ER): Because the French novel Vengeance du traducteur is framed as a French translation of a (non-existent) English original titled Translator’s Revenge, creating my own English translation got a bit complicated. I couldn’t use Translator’s Revenge as the title of my translation, and at the end, when the narrator mentions a supposed “American translator” of Vengeance du traducteur currently undertaking the translation of the book into English in their city, that translator had to be me, that city had to be Providence. It had to come full circle and the reader of the English translation had to understand that this was an explicit reference to the book they were currently holding in their hands, a reference to my work, otherwise, the whole conceit falls apart. Which, in turn, adds extra layers: how faithful is this translation I’ve been reading? How much has this book I’m currently holding in my hands about a rogue translator been messed with in turn by its own translator? I had to insert myself literally as a character, and be creative as a translator, to do justice to Matthieussent’s multi-layered work and keep it from veering into total insanity.

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Summer 2015: The Wonders of Travelling To and From Different Languages

Let’s hope, then, that languages can heal—let’s make them a force of reconciliation.

A meme recently caught my eye: “If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a single day in your life. you won’t have any work-life balance and you’ll take things personally.” This is true. What I might add is in order to keep doing what little you love, you have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do. Leading a virtual volunteer team and upholding the quality of a magazine across so many different platforms (including social media) aren’t things that go naturally together. Whether or not you feel like it, you have to step in whenever work pledged by someone else falls through or is submitted in an unsatisfactory state. Over the years, editing the magazine has taken a toll. With the Winter 2015 issue and a gruelling IndieGoGo campaign out of the way, it’s time to recover some joie de vivre. Since the Vietnamese Feature we planned for April 2015 is in woeful shape anyway, I decide to cancel the Spring 2015 issue. A football widow is someone who must cope with the temporary death of her relationship during football games. My long-suffering magazine widower of a partner and I book a month-long Airbnb in Paris (my first time stepping on European soil in ten years), where we work on a book-length translation project together in between visits to gardens and museums. While in Paris, news arrives that Asymptote has been shortlisted for the London Book Fair award for International Literary Translation Initiative. I buy Eurostar tickets and make arrangements for Asymptote’s first-ever team gathering in London, documented here. April 15 comes, and on the day we might have launched the Spring 2015 issue, I walk up a stage instead to receive an award on behalf of the entire magazine. Although we competed against the Dutch Foundation for Literature (which, unlike Asymptote, has institutional backing) and China’s Paper Republic (which predates Asymptote), the selection committee declares their decision “unanimous,” calling our magazine “the place where translators want to publish their own and their authors’ work.” My own euphoric team members aside (some at the ceremony, most not), I’m also congratulated by the reporter at Lianhe ZaobaoSingapore’s main Chinese broadsheetwho ran a full-page story on me in March and thus made my Chinese-speaking parents proud (being avid readers of this broadsheet but not of English literature, let alone Asymptote, this is possibly a bigger deal to them than any London Book Fair award—and so for the next six months, they don’t nag at me to look for ‘proper work’). Otherwise, attention from Singaporean media is close to non-existent. On the other hand, news of our win is joyously received by our international readers on social media. How different the magazine’s outlook from exactly four months ago! Here to introduce the first issue after our London Book Fair win is Assistant Managing Editor Lou Sarabadzic.

I have a real passion for multilingualism that can be explained from two different perspectives. First, the half-full one: as a poet writing in French and English (and sometimes incorporating both within the same piece) I love hearing about any multilingual writing experience, or any writer using an adopted language. The half-empty (a lot more than half, actually…) perspective would instead focus on the fact that as an author writing in only two languages, there are thousands of languages I can’t read, understand, or even name. French and English: so far, that’s all I’ve got. And while I need writing in both these languages to explore things I couldn’t explore in just one of them, I am acutely aware that these are two dominant, Western European languages. In my case, multilingualism doesn’t equal diversity. It’s more about personal choices, education in an Erasmus era, and privileged immigration.

Yet from both perspectives I reach the same conclusion: I love multilingualism because it has so much to teach me. It’s also what I immediately liked in Asymptote. In the Summer 2015 issue, the journal explicitly embraces and celebrates multilingualism by making it the subject of a Special Feature, edited by Ellen Jones. (And it will do so again in 2016 and 2018.) This commitment takes diversity and inclusion to a whole new level. I was already extremely impressed by the international line-up of writers, artists, and translators featured in Asymptote. However, this specific—and recurring—focus on multilingualism encapsulates what the journal is all about: not only providing translations from one language into another, but ‘facilitat[ing] encounters between languages’. In other words: making languages inseparable, fostering new connections, exploring history, and suggesting a future. In his editor’s note, Lee Yew Leong writes that this issue “contains work from more than thirty countries and from four new languages, bringing [Asymptote’s] tally to seventy-two(!)” Now, that’s something you don’t see in just any journal… Along with multilingualism, contributing to a platform for a truly worldwide literature is something that was crucial in my decision to apply to work at Asymptote: a single language doesn’t mean a single country, as colonisation and history sadly show us. READ MORE…

Asymptote Podcast: #30Issues30Days Edition

Dig through our archive with Dominick Boyle, who unearths gems from South India, Chile, Sweden and more!

In celebration of Asymptote’s milestone 30th issue, Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle dives into the archives to uncover some of his favorite recordings from the archive. In this episode, he revisits poetry set to music in Tamil and Spanish from Aandaal and Enrique Winter, and snarky telephone conversations with a whole city by way of voice-mail from Jonas Hassen Khemiri. He also spotlights: the touching suicide notes left by Jean Améry, which reveal 3 different sides of a man in his death; experimental Vietnamese poetry by Bùi Chát, which comes to life read by translator Jack J. Huynh; and Owen Good’s translations of Hungarian poet Krisztina Tóth, which Eliot Weinberger awarded first prize in our inaugural Close Approximations contest. Take a walk down memory lane—this time with your headphones on!

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Spring 2013: A Singular Experience

I have written for The Atlantic and Foreign Affairs, interacted with magazines large and small—but my experience with Asymptote remains singular.

To sift through the 1,709 threads generated around our first-ever Indiegogo campaign (held from 16 January 2013 to 30 April 2013) is to relive stomach-churning dread. Money is a garish topic—no one likes to ask for it. Although the team is by now 25-strong, only five or six go out on a limb (for which I’m already extremely grateful). As of 24 April 2013, we find ourselves hovering around 7.5% of our goal (i.e., $1,500)—just enough, then, to cover the cost of the animation I commissioned for the fundraiser (since, ever the introvert, I have declined to appear in a video). Someone leaves a discouraging comment on social media: “Asymptote? More like Asym-nope.” But, suddenly, momentum picks up. With 5 days left, we go from $1,500 to $3,000, then from $3,000 to $6,000; and then, thanks to a single donation of $5,000 from a friend, we achieve the thrilling feat of doubling our monies for the third day in a row. All at once, hitting our goal is looking possible. From our various stations around the globe, we liveblog the last 48 hours, and finally bring it home at $20,184. (This money represents extra lives to stay in the game: Overnight, our bank account jumps from two figures to five.) Back for a visit in Singapore, I meet with a local literary editor I reached out to in the final hours of the campaign. In a cafe, he takes out his check book and writes the number $101, declaring the number meaningful: It is the one and only time he will ever donate to Asymptote. I want to give back the check, but instead I cash it, considering it reparation of sorts: I am a nine-time unpaid contributor to his journal, which, unlike Asymptote, does promote Singaporean writing and is therefore eligible to receive money from Singapore’s National Arts Council to pay its contributors; it doesn’t simply becauseand I know because he told mehe doesn’t want the hassle of administering funds. Here to introduce the Spring 2013 issue is contributor Will McGrath.

To the funding body*:

I am delighted to write in support of Asymptote, which published my essay “Good & Bad Joala” in April 2013. It was a piece of personal significance about the southern African kingdom of Lesotho, and also my first publication. Since 2013, I have published frequently, written for The Atlantic and Foreign Affairs, won the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction, and interacted with magazines large and small—but my experience with Asymptote remains singular.

When Asymptote selected my essay, I didn’t understand how uncommon the journal was, how rare their personal investment in each piece. They commissioned stunning visuals to accompany my work and sought out an internationally lauded translator to bring my essay into Chinese, mediating between us and consulting me on the granular detail of translation. After publication, they nominated my essay for a Pushcart Prize and then a Best of the Net Prize. Later still, when I published in other journals, Asymptote continued to support and celebrate my work, striving to foster a global network of writers and readers. All of this attention and effort they lavished on an uncredentialled writer pulled from the slush pile. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “The Memory Artist” by Katherine Brabon

Presenting Micol Licciardello, winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition

This week it gives us great pleasure to present the winner of a student literary translation competition hosted by Monash University in collaboration with Asymptote. Conceived by Monash University lecturer, Dr. Gabriel Garcia Ochoa, the contest was held as part of his third-year undergraduate course, Translating Across Cultures. Following Susan Bassnett’s idea that translation can help us better understand the features of different cultures (read our interview with her here!), the course teaches translation as a method for developing cross-cultural competence. The students—all of whom are language majors—are divided into seven different streams: Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Italian, French, German, and Indonesian (with Korean forthcoming in 2019). The three students who received the highest scores on the course’s final assignment were allowed to compete in the Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

The three finalists were asked to translate an excerpt from Katherine Brabon’s novel The Memory Artist, which won the 2016 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. Our warmest thanks to the author, the jury (made up of Monash University faculty members and Asymptote’s editorial staff), and the novel’s publisher Allen & Unwin for their kind support, in particular Emma Dorph and Maggie Thompson.

Without further ado, our heartiest congratulations to the winner Micol Licciardello, whose Italian-language translation we feature here (after the original text in English). Our applause also for the first runner-up, Beatrice Bandini, who also translated the passage into Italian, and our second runner-up, Andoni Laguna-Alberdi, who translated the passage into Spanish.

I was born in Moscow in 1964. Our apartment was a dvushka, two rooms and a small square of kitchen, in a Khrushchev-era concrete block. In that apartment of my childhood, uneven towers of paper, a precarious city, sprawled across the living room floor. On a glass-fronted bookshelf, photos of old dissidents, exiled writers and dead poets leant against the volumes and journals, looking out with silent faces. A narrow balcony faced the street.

Every child has their window, and from mine, in the kitchen, I could see only a narrow street, the tops of hats or umbrellas of people passing below, slanting shadows on the walls of the tower opposite and identical to ours, rain bouncing off bitumen, piles of snow and sometimes the old woman who cleared it away. On the windowsill were a few of those old meat tins—from the war years, my mother said—that now held pencils and fake flowers.

Life was our kitchen table. Rectangular, not very big, metal legs; draped in a cream cloth with latticed edges, stitched flowers in orange, brown and yellow. It was mesmerising, for me as a boy, to see how our rooms could transform between morning and late evening. In the morning, the table, and therefore the apartment, had a certain stillness; there were only a few ripples in the tablecloth where the base or a plate had nudged the material out of place. I could hear my mother’s slippers on the linoleum floor, the tick of the gas boiler on the wall, the soft knock of tea glasses placed on the wooden shelf. Pasha, drink your tea, my mother would say to me.

By evening our kitchen table would be another place, crowded and always, it seemed to me, made more colourful by the noise and the people gathered there. Rather than a first memory, I grasped a first feeling, an impression of those evenings in my childhood.

Oleg would usually arrive first. He had broad shoulders but was thin, the sinews of his neck stretched as if to their limits. The veins on his hands resembled river lines on a map. His hair, neatly parted, was slightly wispy, and his eyes were a striking shade of light blue. There was one night, or many, when I was very young and Oleg was talking as usual with the adults gathered in our kitchen. From my seat I watched as he casually reached for a cloth to dry the very plate from which I had moments ago eaten my dinner, that my mother had washed in the sink. In its ease, the unspoken closeness of old friends, it was a gesture that comforted me. We had probably lost my father by then. Perhaps I craved the figure of another parent that Oleg seemed to embody.

And then the others would arrive for the gathering—or underground activist meeting, as I would later learn to call these evenings in our apartment. They greeted one another, taking glasses from the table or shelf, some talking loudly as they walked through the tiny entranceway from the hall, pausing by the door to take off their boots, others quieter, patting me on the shoulder. I could smell makhorka tobacco as if it drifted in with those tall figures, riding on the warmth of their wheezing laughs or the cold of the draught from the hallway. Since the table was so small, most stood leaning against the wall, the doorway, or the edge of the sink. Certain papers were sometimes lifted from beneath the linoleum on the floor. Oleg would turn the radio on, wink at me and say, Let’s find out what’s happening to us today, Pasha. And then voices from Radio Liberty, Voice of America, or the BBC would speak from the shiny mint-green Latvian radio that was moved to the table for those gatherings—another object, like the kitchen table, that became so deeply woven into events of those years that it was something of a character in my memories. Such things seemed to hold an emotional personality as real as those of the people who, after all, would themselves become only memory objects of a kind.

***

Sono nato a Mosca nel 1964. Il nostro appartamento era una dvushka, due camere e una piccola cucina quadrata, in un palazzo di cemento dell’epoca di Kruscev. In quell’appartamento della mia infanzia, torri di carta irregolari, una città precaria, erano sparse sul pavimento del soggiorno. Su una vetrinetta, foto di vecchi dissidenti, scrittori esiliati e poeti morti erano poggiate su libri e riviste e ci guardavano con volti silenziosi. Un balcone stretto si affacciava sulla strada.

Tutti i bambini hanno una finestra e dalla mia, in cucina, vedevo soltanto una strada stretta, le cime dei cappelli e degli ombrelli della gente che passava giù, ombre oblique sui muri della torre di fronte identica alla nostra, la pioggia rimbalzare sul bitume, mucchi di neve e a volte la vecchia signora che la spalava. Sul davanzale c’erano alcune scatolette di carne—quelle degli anni della guerra, diceva mia madre—che ora contenevano matite e fiori finti.

Il tavolo da cucina era la nostra vita. Rettangolare, non molto grande, con gambe di metallo; avvolto in una tovaglia color crema con un motivo a quadretti sui bordi e fiori ricamati arancioni, marroni e gialli. Quando ero piccolo, restavo incantato vedendo come le stanze si trasformavano fra la mattina e la tarda serata. Di mattina il tavolo, e quindi l’appartamento, erano immersi in una quiete immobile; c’era soltanto qualche increspatura sulla tovaglia dove il vaso o i piatti avevano piegato leggermente il tessuto. Sentivo le ciabatte di mia madre sul pavimento di linoleum, il ticchettio della caldaia sul muro, il tocco lieve delle tazzine riposte sulla mensola di legno. Pasha, bevi il tè, mi diceva mia madre.

Di sera il tavolo diventava un altro posto, affollato e reso sempre, ai miei occhi, più ricco di colore dal rumore e dalle persone che vi si riunivano. Piuttosto che un primo ricordo, afferrai una prima sensazione, un’impressione di quelle sere della mia infanzia.

Di solito Oleg era il primo ad arrivare. Aveva le spalle larghe ma era magro, i tendini del collo tesi quasi al limite. Le vene sulle sue mani somigliavano alle linee che segnano i fiumi sulle mappe. Portava i capelli sottili con una riga ordinata e i suoi occhi erano di un’ammaliante sfumatura di azzurro. Una notte, o molte notti, quando ero appena un bambino, Oleg parlava come ogni sera con gli adulti riuniti in cucina. Dalla sedia lo guardavo allungarsi disinvolto verso un panno per asciugare il piatto che proprio qualche istante prima avevo utilizzato a cena e che mia madre aveva sciacquato nel lavandino. Con quella disinvoltura, il tacito legame dei vecchi amici, era un gesto che mi confortava. Probabilmente mio padre era già morto in quel momento. Forse desideravo ardentemente la figura di un genitore che Oleg sembrava incarnare.

Più tardi arrivavano gli altri per la riunione—o incontro degli attivisti clandestini, il vero nome di quelle serate a casa nostra che scoprii successivamente. Si salutavano mentre prendevano un bicchiere dal tavolo o dalla mensola, alcuni parlavano a voce alta attraversando l’entrata stretta, fermandosi vicino la porta per togliersi gli stivali, altri, più silenziosi, dandomi un colpetto sulle spalle. Sentivo l’odore del tabacco makhorka come se venisse trasportato dentro da quelle sagome alte, aleggiando sul calore delle loro risate affannose o sulla corrente fredda che arrivava dal corridoio. Dato che il tavolo era molto piccolo, la maggior parte di loro stava in piedi appoggiandosi al muro, sulla porta o sui bordi del lavandino. A volte prendevano dei giornali dal pavimento di linoleum. Oleg accendeva la radio, mi faceva l’occhiolino e diceva, Scopriamo cosa ci sta succedendo oggi, Pasha. E poi voci di Radio Liberty, Voice of America o della BBC parlavano dalla radio lettone di un colore menta brillante che spostavano sul tavolo per quelle riunioni—un altro oggetto, come il tavolo da cucina, che si era fittamente intrecciato con gli eventi di quegli anni tanto da diventare quasi un personaggio dei miei ricordi. Queste cose parevano avere una personalità carica di emozioni vera quanto quella delle persone che, dopotutto, sarebbero diventate soltanto oggetti nei miei ricordi.

Katherine Brabon was born in Melbourne in 1987 and grew up in Woodend, Victoria. The Memory Artist, her first novel, won the 2016 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.

Micol Licciardello is a student at Monash University and the winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

*****

Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:

Asymptote Podcast: Cultivating Multilingual Spaces

What does it take to create a multilingual space? Layla Benitez-James explores this question with a dispatch from Alicante, Spain.

In honor of Asymptote‘s Summer 2018 edition, which marks our milestone 30th issue and includes a dazzling Multilingual Writing Feature, Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James explores what it takes to create multilingual spaces by taking a visit to the IV Encuentro Internacional de Artistas de la Kasbah in Alicante, Spain. This festival, now in its fourth year, brings together over twenty artists from around the world in an effort to foster greater cultural exchange and artistic friendship. There, she chats with Colombian artist Manuel Antonio Velandia Mora about his work, as well as founders Nourdine Tabbai and Natalia Molinos about the event’s origins. READ MORE…

Transcending Language Through Sports: Football Writers

Asymptote team members and readers share their favorite pieces of writing about the game.

We are well into the World Cup, which means endless amounts of football (or soccer, depending on your location) for the serious fans and a chance to dabble in that world for those less-serious fans of the sport. The group stage is coming to a close and there have been more than a few surprises, including Iceland’s humbling of Messi and Argentina, Poland going down against the tenacious Senegalese team—and Germany? Really?

The World Cup, an event that very much goes beyond the ninety minutes of twenty-two players and a ball, generates an endless amount of controversy, discussion, national pride, rivalry, and politics from all sorts of people, including our favorite writers. With that in mind, today we bring you a special treat as Asymptote team members and readers share their favorite pieces of writing about the game.

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From Austria: Elfriede Jelinek

Already, the 2018 World Cup has delivered its quota of surreal moments. Some have been joyfully surreal—the director of Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision video leaping to keep out a penalty from one of the greatest players of all-time; Iran’s failed attempt at a somersault throw-in during the final seconds of a crucial game against Spain—but others have had a more sinister edge. Among the defining images from the opening match was the handshake between Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman, two star players for the Axis of too-wealthy-to-be-evil.

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In Conversation: Kalyan Raman

I have always been troubled by the hegemonic position of English.

N Kalyan Raman, a bilingual translator, is best known for his English translations of the works of eminent Tamil modernist writer Ashokamitran. Suchitra Ramachandran, a young translator who won the Asymptote Close Approximations translation fiction prize in 2017 for her translation of the Tamil short story “Periyamma’s Words” by B. Jeyamohan, works in the same languages. 

The two translators met in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu and home of the Tamil language, to discuss the practice and politics of translation, posing questions as wide ranging as: What is the role of translation in an astoundingly multi-lingual country? Does English as a language, a post-colonial residue, oppress or enable? What is the literary legacy of translation and how can it shape the understanding of a diverse society? What follows is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

For other emerging translators, enter the fourth edition of our translation contest and stand to win up to $3,000 in prizes. This year’s competition is judged by Edward Gauvin and Eugene Ostashevsky. Details here.

Suchitra Ramachandran (SR): Translation—a weighty literary activity, a difficult craft—seems to have no prestige associated with it in India. And that’s a reason, I think, why a lot of people don’t pursue it seriously.

N Kalyan Raman (KN): The translator is marginalized as a matter of course and for no good reason. A senior editor in Delhi told me that there is simply no space available in the media to talk about translators. What we must do first is accept the translator as part of the literary community, as producers of literary texts. Editors and other institutional intermediaries are given far more space in the translation discourse than translators themselves.

Also, I don’t think of translation as one separate trick. It’s as much a part of the literary culture as anything else. And translators do other things (in the literary ecosystem) as well, which hardly receive any notice—reflecting, engaging, reviewing, it is all a part of the culture. And understanding it, developing a reflective awareness of the trajectory of the literary culture of your community. Languages imply community above all else. What good is language if there is no community around it? In India, the English language seems to facilitate, in any field, only interest groups. It’s not amenable to a truly open space.

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So you want to be a literary translator . . .

. . . but don't know where to start? Here's what you need to know.

Literary translators come from a multitude of backgrounds. Many are authors first of all, for whom translation is a natural extension of their work. Others are literary critics or academics, who translate to give a wider audience access to the works they study. With the growing popularity and visibility of global literature in the English-speaking world, on the other hand, has come increased visibility of literary translation as an art of its own.

As an American high schooler, I knew I wanted to translate books. But unlike my friends who wanted to be writers or performers, editors or scientists, I had no idea how to make that happen. I fumbled my way through, doing plenty of research and seeking out guidance from people in the translation industry wherever possible. I now work as a full-time translator on a combination of literary and non-literary projects, something I wouldn’t have believed possible at the age of 17 or 18.

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Asymptote Podcast: Translating Blackness

Listen in on a conversation with the eloquent Lawrence Schimel on translating blackness, female authors, and more!

In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, we explore the identities of translators and authors via an interview with translator Lawrence Schimel whose groundbreaking translation from the Spanish of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda was recently reviewed on the Asymptote blog. (Obono is the first female author from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English.) Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James, returning from her sabbatical, sits down with Schimel in Madrid to discuss the challenges of translating this novel in the light of John Keene’s essay, “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness.” We also delve into Schimel’s work at the helm of A Midsummer Night’s Press, the challenge of getting more female authors translated into English, and how to advocate for a more inclusive global literature.

Produced by:
Layla Benitez-James Featuring: Lawrence Schimel Music: Studio Mali – Wake Up – “It’s Africa Calling” by IntraHealth International. Creative Commons licenses can be found at http://freemusicarchive.org/. Some changes were made to these tracks. Photograph: Nieves Guerra

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